This chapter provides a very brief and highly selective picture of some of the landscape of multidisciplinary family services in Ontario with a view to providing a context for the vision of layering on low-level legal services to a multidisciplinary family services delivery model.  The discussion is divided into three main sections.  The first section identifies some basic features of multidisciplinary family service delivery models and provides some general reasons for why they should be utilized.  The second section reviews the history of Community Health Centres in Ontario, which pioneered in the province multidisciplinary family service delivery.  The third section reviews the very recent innovations in early learning and early childhood education (ECE) in Ontario.   The two types of sites for multidisciplinary family services described in this chapter – health-oriented and ECE-oriented – are promising illustrations of the potential for realizing the vision of multidisciplinary paths to family justice in Ontario.


Reasons for Multidisciplinary Family Services Teams

In a multidisciplinary service delivery team, different professionals with distinct skill sets provide services holistically whilst respecting professional boundaries and roles.  This sort of multidisciplinary team operates through a division of labour that corresponds to professional expertise.   It allows professionals from different fields – physicians, nurses, teachers, social workers, lawyers, early childhood educators, family mediators – to work collaboratively in teams focused on the multi-dimensional needs of families without transgressing the their own professional boundaries.  Individuals who join these multidisciplinary teams retain their own identity as an expert in a given profession and bring that perspective to bear on the challenges that are facing the team. 

            A multidisciplinary service model should be distinguished from service delivery models where each member of the team performs tasks that blend into the tasks of others without rigorous role differentiation.  There are some examples of the latter type of delivery model in Ontario, for instance, some of the shelters for victims of domestic violence operate in this way as do some of the shelters for the homeless.  These teams are effective and well suited for some areas of social service delivery.  The focus throughout this paper, however, is on multidisciplinary family services delivery models.

The principal rationale for the establishment of multidisciplinary family services teams are the needs of the clients or families being serviced by these teams, as opposed to the needs of the professionals providing these services.[8]  Often, the challenges and problems facing Ontario’s families are neither simple nor one-dimensional.  Employment issues may bleed into problems paying the rent or create health problems.  Marital problems at home may affect educational achievements at school.  Domestic violence might affect relationships with otherwise supportive extended family.  As others have noted, when families are in crisis, they experience clusters of problems, problems that are different in nature but interrelated.[9]   Multidisciplinary teams of professionals create a problem-solving space that allows for the collaboration of individuals with diverse skill sets and multiple perspectives to address these clusters of problems.  The single most compelling reason for multidisciplinary family services teams is precisely that they reflect the complexity of the family problems they are designed to address.

These teams also have the capacity to respond to the cause and effect dynamics of family needs in ways that are proactive.  In this way, by addressing problems earlier or indeed preventing new problems from emerging, these teams can result in considerable cost savings.  Moreover, because the family is not dealing with a series of individual professionals but rather a team working together, it is less likely that the remedies and solutions will overlap and be redundant.

Another reason for multidisciplinary family services teams is that they make it easier for families to access services.  Instead of telling their stories again and again and shuttling from one place to another, these sorts of teams offer families in Ontario a one-stop facility that they can rely on to identify their needs and address them.

            In practice, effective multidisciplinary family services teams are characterized by two common features.  One feature is some sort of co-location of the different team members.  The sharing of physical space or some sort of central space combined with satellite spaces enable collaboration among professionals in ways that are rarer when geographical boundaries exist.  Numerous individuals reported to us the value of informal interactions in the lunch room or over coffee.  Others emphasized the ease of following up referrals to other professionals when it simply involved walking a client down a corridor to someone else’s office.

            The second feature is the manner in which the services provided by the multidisciplinary team are expanded.   Teams predominantly layer on more services by adding on programs, which are lead by professionals with the appropriate expertise.  In this respect, multidisciplinary delivery models involve a series of programs.  Effective teams are ones that integrate these programs into a mosaic rather than a mere patchwork.


Community Health Centres in Ontario

            Community Health Centres in Ontario date back to the 1970s.  At present, there are 74 Community Health Centres in the province.[10]  These centres utilize the broad definition of health offered by the World Health Organization (WHO):

Health is the extent to which an individual or group is able, on one hand, to realize aspirations and satisfy needs; and, on the other hand, to change or cope with the environment. Health is therefore seen as a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living; it is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacity.[11]

The basic mandate of the Community Health Centres is to provide primary health care.  However, because of their commitment to the WHO’s definition of health, the understanding of what constitutes primary health care and how it should be delivered makes Community Health Centres distinctive within Ontario’s health care delivery system.

            The Association of Ontario Health Centres identifies the following as basic principles that inform its approach to primary health care:

“Effective primary health care must address the determinants of health, including shelter, education, food, income, a stable eco-system, sustainable resources, social justice, equity and peace. It therefore encompasses primary care, illness prevention, health promotion, health education, community development, social action, building healthy public policy, and creating supportive environments.”
Community governance ensures that the health of a community is enhanced by providing leadership through effective partnerships of individuals and community and the staff of health centres. Community governance allows the skills, expertise, knowledge, and life experience of all partners to be shared to contribute to the health of their community.
[Multidisciplinary] teams of health professionals are the most effective and efficient means for providing quality services in an appropriate manner. These multidisciplinary teams include physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, dieticians, health promoters, counsellors and other staff and volunteers who contribute to the health of the community.[12]
Community Health Centres receive their basic funding from the Ministry of Health and do not bill OHIP on a fee-for-service basis.